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Over 200 kids under five died of starvation in Tigray hospitals: Survey

Women carry sacks of wheat during a distribution of food in the city of Alamata, Ethiopia, on December 11, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Nearly 200 children under five years of age have died of severe acute malnutrition in Ethiopia's Tigray region, according to data collected from hospitals only.

Local doctors and researchers said information they had collected from 14 hospitals in Tigray showed "more than 186 deaths" had been registered in children younger than five over the last year.

Doctor Hagos Godefay, head of the health bureau in Tigray, told AFP on Tuesday, "We collected this information from hospitals only." He said that the findings had been collected from hospitals as well as through household surveys by doctors and university researchers in Tigray.

Only 14 percent of surveyed households reported having enough access to food, down from 60 percent, Hagos said.

"For those areas that are not accessible, you can only imagine how many children are dying because of starvation," he said.

"They are living in remote areas, there is no water... there is no food, no communication, no health facility," Hagos added.

He said according to data, some 29 percent of children were acutely malnourished, up from nine percent before the war.

For severe acute malnutrition, the figure was 7.1 percent, up from 1.3 percent before the war, Hagas said.

"So I am telling you if we go to the remote areas, it will double for sure," said the doctor.

The survey findings covered the four months from late June.

Tigray has been the scene of conflict since November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops there to topple the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in response to attacks on army camps.

The war has killed thousands of people and, according to the UN, pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions due to a de facto humanitarian blockade on the northern region.

Hagos, who called for the lifting of the siege, said 14 hospitals still functioning in Tigray had each recorded between three and four deaths weekly due to ordinarily treatable illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea.

"If we are not able to manage them, if we are not able to provide them drugs... it's catastrophic," he said.

Abiy's spokeswoman Billene Seyoum, however, said in an interview with the CNN last week that "the onus of responsibility on humanitarian access... is on the TPLF."

Foreign envoys will meet in neighboring Kenya early on Wednesday to discuss the conflict, but the TPLF has said lifting the "siege" of Tigray is a condition for any truce.

According to the UN, since mid-July, less than 15 percent of needed aid has been able to enter Tigray. The UN said earlier this year that more than 350,000 of Tigray's nearly 6 million people were living in famine conditions.

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